The Buy Pile: Clones, Optimus Prime & Superhero Love

Thu, December 13th, 2012 at 10:58am PST | Updated: December 13th, 2012 at 11:16am

Comic Books
Hannibal Tabu, Columnist

WHAT IS THE BUY PILE?

Every week Hannibal Tabu (two-time Eisner-winning journalist/blogger/novelist/poet/jackass on Twitter/head honcho of Komplicated.com) goes to a comic book store called Comics Ink in Culver City, CA (Overland and Braddock -- hey Steve, Jason, Vince and Quislet) and grabs a whole lotta comics. These periodicals are quickly sorted (how) into two piles -- the "buy" pile (a small pile most weeks, comprised of planned purchases) and the "read" pile (often huge, often including comics that are really crappy but have some value to stay abreast of). Thursday afternoons you'll be able to get his thoughts (and they're just the opinions of one guy, so calm down, and here's some common definitions used in the column) about all of that ... which goes something like this ...

THE BUY PILE FOR DECEMBER 12, 2012

Transformers: Robots In Disguise #12
(IDW Publishing)
This issue took every possible combustible element and not only threw them in together, but turned up the heat as well. Bumblebee's fragile coalition government stands on shaky ground as Starscream has lost the public trust he'd worked so hard to gain (almost Sisyphean, that). Angry mobs of disenfranchised Decepticons walk the street with an axe to grind. Less than noble Autobots continue to stack up escalating body counts. Why, if you were also reading the "More Than Meets The Eye" title as it recounts the "Star Wars"-esque struggle of an oppressed underclass fighting against a government rotted from within by nepotism and graft, this will seem like even giant robots fail to learn from history, instead being doomed to repeat it as Prowl makes a fine follower of Zeta Prime's extremism. Oh, and Megatron's back, which scares the heck out of everybody. Complicated ideas rendered very entertainingly with John Barber's script and art from Andrew Griffith and Josh Perez.

Clone #2
(Image Comics)
Jump from the Read Pile.
Stealing the brilliant artist Juan Jose Ryp from Avatar's stable of books (alongside colorist Felix Serrano), writer David Schulner delivers a gripping political thriller with a hint of science fiction that fans of the "Bourne" films will enjoy. Starting at the top, there's a corrupt vice president (*cough*"Homeland"*cough*) who's torn over a political issue that leaves his daughter in the lurch (the Cheneys). Also, he's covering up a secret project that's essentially made dozens and dozens of titular duplicates. The revelation exposes the existential challenges these men find, discovering their lack of distinctiveness ("If you are Luke, then who am I? You are Serge. Everyone here is Serge. They are all me. I am not them") as the perspective of their newest discovery leads to a big surprise. Not just interesting ideas, but a well balanced script and Ryp's always compelling, detailed artwork. A nice surprise!

Love and Capes: What To Expect #5
(IDW Publishing)
Jump from the Read Pile.
Speaking of well balanced plots, Thomas Zahler (he writes and draws this? With this level of detail? Damn!) brings back a story full of Captain Ersatz characters who have developed beyond their sources. A "Freaky Friday" play that could have been very cliched ended up delivering some real emotional resonance in helping the leads come closer together. However, this issue hinged on the challenges of the Batman equivalent and his Wonder Woman-esque girlfriend as the responsibilities of her heritage threatened the relationship. That resolution played out wonderfully and -- for a book that has literally no punching -- the conflict has real stakes and a smart approach. Really good stuff here.

WHAT'S THE PROGNOSIS?

No complaints with any of these comics.

THIS WEEK'S READ PILE

Honorable Mentions: Stuff worth noting, even if it's not good enough to buy

In "Extermination" #7, the Batman Captain Ersatz named Nox's character makes a big, almost inexplicable twist while revealing some of the reasons behind the series' premises. Very close to making the mark, but the shift seemed a little facile, n'est ce pas?

"Archer and Armstrong" #5 was pretty good as the latter's brother, who's apparently Valiant's Eternal Warrior -- a kind of Energizer Bunny of mayhem and melee combat who's immortal, super strong and a man of such remarkable focus, you might believe he was part Wakandan -- spends half of the issue trying to kill the other titular character. This led to some fairly entertaining flashbacks to Imperial China (no stormtroopers, sorry) and a sibling rivalry spanning centuries. Not bad, but the split focus took some clarity away from the overall narrative.

"Deathstroke" #15 was -- surprisingly -- not bad as he takes on a contract to kill a man who is, essentially, unkillable, a healing factor that'd make James Howlett do an appreciative slow clap. The actual issue seemed to end abruptly, not having enough time to really develop the villain beyond his power set, but Slade's confidence and simple clarity was an improvement over the whining of previous issues.

If you want a comic where the villain was well developed, look at "The Walking Dead" #105, which showcased the brutal warlord Negan in his home environment, scaring the sauce out of Carl (who, predictably, did not stay in the house nor the van) and showing a little bit how the other half lives. However, in so well displaying Negan's complexity (he's kind of fascinating), this issue ignored ... what's that called again? Oh, right -- a plot.

"Borderlands: Origins" #2 did the same thing with a character -- a very rare super powered interstellar personage -- who could fit in well with the ones you see in "Saga." Sure, she didn't do much more than get drunk and reminisce about her awful childhood, but there were some promising moments when she had a moment in the back of a bus. Will it go somewhere? Let's see.

The best part about "Scarlet Spider" #12 has to do with Belgium, and no, it's not waffles. Unfortunately, despite really good art and a number of good lines, when the lead character spends most of the issue sad, drunk and complaining, that slows down your chances of making it home.

The Joker's on everybody's mind in "Batman" #15 and "Batman and Robin" #15, as the possibility that he was in the cave and knows everything dominates the thoughts of the heroes (and anti-hero) of Gotham, leading to a dressing down and lots of pretty agitated discourse. That discourse, however, is the main course and not the side dish, and that made these two issues less filling than they could have been.

"Point of Impact" #3, a plain Jane police procedural in black and white, follows course like a solid episode of "Law & Order" (dun dun!) as its two detectives followed leads and canvassed possible witnesses while a grieving husband, honestly, does some pretty hard investigating of his own (approaching more of an Easy Rawlins take on it) as a political conspiracy is revealed as well. Dick Wolf would feel right at home with this, and if it was on as you were flipping through channels, sure, you'd watch it.

"Peter Cannon: Thunderbolt" #4 is going down the rabbit hole, and the jury is out on whether or not that's a good thing. There are secrets and plots as the US government builds its own extrahuman soldiers to address the threat of dragons manifesting in the skies of the capital. Well, except one analyst, who knows something's hinkety and keeps going over the footage to figure out what it is. Oh, and there's a religious fanatic thrown in. Mixing the kookiest elements of current events with a nearly superhuman activist who may or may not be completely insane ... worth watching, even if it has way too much going on at once.

"Popeye" #8 was a rock solid self-contained done-in-one story that used characters well and balanced its plot in an all-ages tale. If you need to buy a comic where you'll never have to worry about who reads it, this is harmless in every way.

"Ultimate Comics X-Men" #20 had some interesting ideas, including a change in agriculture for the fractured United States, an un-billed Tony Stark guest appearance and a leadership crisis for the mutant community. All those concepts, however, were presented drily and a stolen gun never got fired, ignoring Chekov's rules (not the "Star Trek" guy).

"Demon Knights" #15 -- like "Team 7" -- worked hard at establishing an underpinning for many of the ideas behind the New 52, including a source for the "rivalry" with the Justice League, featuring the best quote of the week ("Lucifer fighting King Arthur?! Vandal Savage really should join in. You know, just to please the historians") and even grabbed a hint of Ned Stark. The conclusion to the plot, in retrospect, was kind of goofy and Lucifer kind of got played out like a suede condom. It'll be more useful as a source for a Wiki entry than as a comic to read.

"Age of Bronze" #32 was solid historical fiction presented in black and white. It covered issues of gender roles, the politics of the day, tossed in a prisoner swap and got its gladiatorial combat on like Brad Pitt, Russell Crowe or Gerard Butler armored up. It read a more drily than "Ultimate Comics X-Men" due to considerably less well developed characters.

Sticking with the historical theme, "Caligula: Heart of Rome" #1 posited a demonic power behind the throne of the Empire and looked at the oft-naked members of the court, orbiting and scheming around the seat of power. Far too scattered to have hit the point, but carrying on the creepy nature of the last mini series despite not having the charisma of the title character.

If you like CBS military and procedural dramas, "The Activity" #10 will work for you as it brushes past the collateral damage from intelligence activity due to the messy nature of being an instrument of policy. Sure, it largely ignores character, and yes, the actual action is quick and rarely contextualized, but it has its charms.

Missing his "lucky faceplate," the title character in "Transformers Spotlight: Orion Pax" had a narrative that jumped around a bit chronologically, still completely set before the war, before the Matrix, before even the real ascension of Megatron. A 'bot of action, he ends up strapped to an exploding rocket while a crew of rebels (yes, the Decepticons are the "rebels") resists the rule of law. A little more focus and this could have worked out.

If you ever got a chance to see Jay Mohr in the short lived Fox series "Action," you'll see some similar elements in "Change" #1, a comic with almost not relatable, redeemable characters and one steeped in the mercenary, sincerity-deprived environs of Hollywood (not Los Angeles, as they are drastically different cultural experiences). An interesting but disjointed plot that revels in excess.

The "Meh" Pile Not good enough to praise, not bad enough to insult, not important enough to say much more than the title

"Before Watchmen: Rorschach" #3, "Soulfire Volume 4" #3, "Winter Soldier" #13, "Frankenstein, Agent of S.H.A.D.E." #15, "Bloodshot" #6, "Wolverine" #317, "Grifter" #15, "Grace Randolph's Supurbia" #2, "Legion Lost" #15, "Army of Darkness" #7, "Saucer Country" #10, "Marcus Nispel's Chosen" #3, "Suicide Squad" #15, "Red Sonja: Atlantis Rises" #4, "Superboy" #15, "Sherlock Holmes: The Liverpool Demon" #1, "Team 7" #3, "G.I. Joe" #20, "Avengers Assemble" #10, "Ghostbusters" #16, "Cable and X-Force" #1, "Hollows" #1, "Dark Avengers" #184, "Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles" #17, "Fantastic Four" #2, "Artifacts" #23, "It Girl and the Atomics" #5, "Iron Man" #4, "Dan the Unharmable" #8, "Marvel Universe vs. The Avengers" #3, "Buffy the Vampire Slayer Season 9" #16, "Ultimate Comics Iron Man" #3, "Conan the Barbarian" #11, "Batgirl" #15,

No, just ... no ... These comics? Not so much ...

Slapping a Marvel coat of paint on Diet "Hunger Games," er, "Battle Royale," "Avengers Arena" #1 tossed a whole lot of Marvel teens in to get killed. Which, if you're a sadist, might be fine, but when Arcade steps in and bursts out like a boss level character, your eyebrow should go up like, "What? Doesn't this guy scream like a Girl Scout stuck in R. Kelly's house every time even Le Peregrine walks by?" Somehow, yeah, he's holding his own against way, way more superpowered people than he's ever dealt with before, and the lack of explanation why (especially since his characterization is so unidimensional otherwise) eats about 2/3 of this issue with the kind of quizzical look one would associate with the RCA phonogram dog.

"Before Watchmen: Dr. Manhattan" #3 is another work of intricate yet tedious fan fiction. See his father escape the Nazis! See him use quantum fidgeting to gaze at his own navel across a number of decades, or, conversely, try to get laid via statutory rape. Awful. Awful, awful, awful.

"Amazing Spider-Man" #699.1 was neither amazing nor did it have any Spider-Man in it. Instead, it was one big spin-off backdoor pilot for Michael Morbius, emo science vampire. Morbius. Wut r u doing. Morbius. Stahp.

In "Green Lantern Corps" #15, it looks like Ganthet became a fan of Tom Hiddleston last summer as he intones, "free will is the enemy" as he forwards the Guardians' plans to murder and recycle the bodies of the people who've devoted their lives to serving, well, the Guardians. Oh, then for the second half of the issue it ignores all that while following around Guy Gardner on earth trying to be a hero without resources, a ring or anything resembling a plan. Yeah, that's likely to go well. Baffling that this could be so wildly off key.

SO, HOW BAD WAS IT?

Those four terrible comics can't tank a week where so many other books tried hard.

WINNERS AND LOSERS

Two jumps plus lots of stuff good enough to watch if it were on television means a winning week of comics.

THE BUSINESS

First, apparently this column said a comic that was free didn't have enough plot for the price. Woops. Didn't check that. Sorry. For free, hell yeah, go on and grab that.

Hey, remember how the writer of this column has a novel ("The Crown: Ascension") for sale on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, PDF on Gumroad and Smashroads for Apple devices?

Yeah, make that two novels as now "Faraway" is available on Amazon, Barnes & Noble, PDF on Gumroad and Smashroads for Apple devices. Both books are just five bucks apiece, so you could get almost 200,000 words for ten bucks. Can't beat that.

Got a comic you think should be reviewed in The Buy Pile? If we get a PDF of a fairly normal length comic (i.e. "less than 64 pages") by no later than 24 hours before the actual issue arrives in stores (and sorry, we can only review comics people can go to stores and buy), we guarantee the work will get reviewed, if remembered. Physical comics? Geddouttahere. Too much drama to store with diminishing resources. If you send it in more than two days before comics come out, the possibility of it being forgotten increases exponentially. Oh, you should use the contact form as the CBR email address hasn't been regularly checked since George W. Bush was in office. Sorry!

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